Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Expand your universe.

After being pushed from a 2014 U.S. Summer release, to early 2015, the Wachowskis’ latest effects-loaded extravaganza, Jupiter Ascending — the sibling’s first ever PG-13 rated flick — finally hits theaters; and regrettably, results are middling at best. Filmmakers Lana and Andy Wachowskis’ first original science-fiction action adventure since The Matrix Trilogy, Channing Tatum, 22 Jump Street (2014), and Mila Kunis, Black Swan (2010), star in Jupiter Ascending, a film which unveils a hugely intricate universe where planet Earth is just one small part of the vast machinery of galactic commerce — a prize, about to be seized and stripped of its most valuable resource: humanity.

Alien Nation
Alien Nation

Born under a curtain of stars, signs predicted that Jupiter Jones (Milla Kunis) was destined for great things. Now, years later, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up each morning to the harsh reality of her job as a caretaker, where she cleans other people’s homes, having had an endless run of bad breaks in the past. It is only when Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military ‘half-man-half-wolf’ hunter, arrives on Earth to track Jupiter down, does she begin to catch a glimpse of the fate that had been waiting for her all along. As Jupiter’s genetic signature marks her as the beneficiary for an extraordinary inheritance which could alter the balance of the cosmos — giving Jupiter the ability to reshape the fate of her doomed planet — she is forced to leave her ordinary existence behind and confront her true monachal destiny, with Caine as her only trustworthy ally.

With the film’s first draft being ‘apparently’ over six-hundred pages long, it’s no wonder Jupiter Ascending — the Wachowskis’ hundred-and-seventy-five-million-dollar space opera — is such a convoluted disarray, overstuffed with baffling space-talk and perplexing, hard-to-get-your-head-around terms, such as ‘Darwinian state of perfection,’ and though conceptually being helmed as a sci-fi, the film encompasses elements of a handful of other genres: it’s a thriller and an action epic, it is also a love story between two people who never would have met, if not for an event that might only happen once in centuries, if it even happens at all; a bizarre recurrence where a human is born with a gene pattern that’s an exact duplicate of one that has already existed in the past. Cloud Atlas (2012) anyone?

... that's one fancy headpiece!
… that’s one fancy headpiece!

Though containing some nifty concepts, Jupiter Ascending fails to captivate, and while the narrative nosedives into tricky-to-grapple-with territory, it’s escorted along by an array of weak and underdeveloped characters, most of which posses difficult to grasp names and/ or hold knotty, overly intricate, relationships; in particular, the heirs to the ‘House of Abrasax’ — the most powerful of the alien dynasties — Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth), who, following the death of the matriarch, are at war with one another over their inheritance.

On the flipside, Jupiter Ascending looks astounding with lush, wonderfully inspired costumes, vivid art direction, imaginative make-up and state-of-the-art special effects, which cleverly combine elements of high-tech fantasy and organic science fiction into a mix of stunningly unforgettable, richly detailed designs and set-pieces. Seemingly ethereal and highly ultramodern, the aesthetics of the designs are brilliantly conceptualized, juxtaposing clean futuristic gleams, against Gothic baroque architecture, while also giving the structures, environments, space ships and costumes a gritty and grimy real world feel. Interestingly, some of the design characteristics suggest an interconnected history to that of our own, calibrated to the comforts and technology of a society at a far more advanced stage of development. The luxurious, elegantly rendered spacecraft — some of which oddly resemble insects or birds of prey — standout as visually enticing, as do several of the alien creatures, most notably the winged reptilian Sargorns and the nightmarish Keepers, complete with creepy-crawly-like reversible knees and elbows.

Space Invaders
Space Invaders

In terms of action, the Wachowskis are astute masters of their craft, constantly delivering the goods, and Jupiter Ascending is no exception, as the flick truly showcases the sibling’s renowned larger-than-life dynamic action, steeped in wild visual allure. One of the film’s most spectacular sequences occurs as start of the picture, which sees Jupiter — who has just become a target — rely on Caine — whom she had just met — to elude death or capture in a breathless pursuit set against a stunning Chicago backdrop, city lights still glistening with a radiant purple, indigo and gold sky, dawn just about to break. A flawless fusion of physical stunts and visual effects, practical location shots and green-screen stage work, it propels our heroes through narrow passes between skyscrapers and under bridges, then high above the Chicago skyline in a mid-air rush of sharp turns, plunging drops, showcasing Caine’s second-by-second combat strategy and his skill with anti-gravity boots. A real show stopper.

When it comes to performances, a vast majority are rather stock standard for a picture of this stature; Channing Tatum — complete with ‘silly’ wolf-like characteristics, seen in the slight reshaping of his ears and a coarser texture to his hair — is simply going through the ‘lone-hero’ motions, having more than his fare share of unnecessary, yet compulsory, topless exploits, whereas Mila Kunis is certainly pretty enough to keep most male eyes fixed to the screen, with her wardrobe going from casual, working-class, earthbound clothing to a series of more exquisite garments befitting her newly discovered royal status. Sean Bean’s, GoldenEye (1995), expose of Stinger Apini, Caine’s former commanding officer, is also fairly run-of-the-mill, however Bean’s character surprisingly survives the duration of the flick, a rarity for the actor who is normally ‘killed off’ in most major roles.

Jupiter never looked so good!
Jupiter never looked so good!

In addition, Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything (2014), who plays the ruthless Balem, current head of Abrasax Industries, is rather cringe-worthy and delivers some terrible, laughable dialogue, despite the fact that the Wachowskis claim that Balem, and many of the film’s other characters — chiefly the Abrasax siblings — possess echoes of almost Shakespearean and Greek melodrama; put simply though, this over-the-top ‘theatrical’ element just doesn’t do the film any favors. Lastly, it was a pleasure seeing the beautiful Vanessa Kirby, Queen and Country (2014), in a mega-budget Hollywood production, although her short-lived appearance as Jupiter’s friend Katharine Dunlevy is hardly anything to get worked up over.

With the Wachowskis and their longstanding collaborators presenting a wholly novel concept — uncommon for profitable studios in the contemporary film market — it’s tough trying to support or get behind this overly ambitious project without feeling hard-done by due to its many shortcomings. An effects-driven exhibition — with digital effect house Framestore delivering over five-hundred shots for the feature — Jupiter Ascending is, without a doubt, a sensory marvel and probably worth the sit-through, especially if you’re interested in the eye-candy on display; patrons in search for something a little more substantial need-not-apply. Unfortunately, as the whole, Jupiter Ascending comes across as a bit of an uninspired, badly written, clunky mess, and somewhat of a missed opportunity for the Wachowskis, who are slowly beginning to lose the praise and momentum they gained with The Matrix (1999), now almost two decades ago, delivering one narratively muddled dud after another.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by S-Littner

Jupiter Ascending is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia